free Christian audiobooks

Did you know that has a different free Christian audiobook each month? This month’s is called Adopted for Life. You have to sign up with a new account, but there is no credit card information required, and you can download each book multiple times if need be (which is handy for us, since all of our iTunes stuff mysteriously vanished this month).

I have been downloading these free audiobooks for Keith for a year or more and have yet to actually listen to one myself. But hey, it might happen one of these days.

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 1:43 am  Comments (1)  

meeting our goals

Last January, I shared with you our financial goals for 2010.

Today, I will share with you the outcome of those goals.

Goal #1: Acquire $2000 in an emergency fund.
Result: Success! We have that and a bit more in our emergency fund, as well as an extra month’s worth of funds in checking.

Goal #2: Contribute $1000 to our Roth IRA.
Result: Almost. We contributed $700. It would have been nice to contribute more, but something is better than nothing.

Goal #3: Pay off about $7300 in principal on our debts.
Result: Success! We paid off about $10,400 in principal on our debts, so we exceeded this goal by quite a lot.

I am both excited and disappointed, somehow. We set realistic goals, and even exceeded the amount that we paid toward principal on our debts. We had another baby, went on a big vacation, ate well, and still my husband was able to support all four of us on his one income as well as make additional payments toward our debt load… despite having no work for three months out of the year.

Yet we still have debt, and I suppose that is the thing that disappoints me.

I once heard that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in five years. At the rate we are going, we will be out of debt in a little over two years. That’s not too shabby. I want it to be today, of course, but this steady plodding thing is paying off. I hope that five years from now will see us out of debt and being halfway finished paying for a home of our own. It could happen, right?

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm  Comments (1)  

preparing for unemployment

This month marks the third December in a row in which we do not know if Keith will have any work in the new year.

His work is seasonal, although it doesn’t have to be. It really all depends on who is giving out contracts at what times and for how much. It’s really not so scary as it sounds, although it does require a lot of flexibility and planning.

It’s kind of an interesting balance, though. In the midst of excitedly planning for Christmas presents and Rilla’s second birthday party, I am also minimizing our outgoing expenses: pausing contributions to Keith’s Roth IRA, minimizing the amounts we put toward debts, and putting our NetFlix account on hold.

I am always surprised at how this is still such a learning process for me. I’m not (so) afraid of the possibility of Keith not having work for the next month or two or three or four; we have weathered it for the last two winter seasons, so I am sure we will make it through this one too. It does surprise me, though, to find myself fighting having to put the brakes on so many little outgoing expenses and return to the bare minimum costs for everything. Maybe I am not so frugal as I think I am? Or maybe I just don’t enjoy it all the time. I hate to use the term “feast or famine,” but I do tend to enjoy feasting a little more in the summer and fall months. Preparing to return to the famine of the winter and spring months is a bit less appealing, but that’s okay; we will make it through again.

I find myself thinking now of lots of little ways to make it through better this time. I have a big pile of things that we can put on eBay sometime in February when there’s not much else to do. Maybe I can make some cards or sew some things to sell on Etsy. In many ways, I have been looking forward to the winter months of having Keith at home – maybe I can get some writing done, maybe we’ll finally get Abraham moved into his own room, maybe we can make it through Season Three of 24.

We have made some good progress on debt this year, although with the snow slowing down production in November and December, I probably should have held back more for savings sooner… but oh well. You learn as you go, right? I am getting excited to tally up our headway on debt this year and write a post about that sometime in January. Stay tuned.

Published in: on December 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm  Comments (1)  

making good use of clothing guarantees

Keith’s work requires that he tromp through a lot of brush and woods each day. As you might imagine, continual contact with brush, trees, and weeds can really ruin clothing quickly! He had destroyed several pairs of great jeans within a short time before we realized that we needed to find some workwear that would last longer than the average stuff.

I don’t remember how we happened to learn about Duluth Trading, but they have Fire Hose Work Pants that come with a “We Dare You to Wear ‘Em Out” guarantee. Basically, they are well-built pants that are made out of fire hose material. They do hold up longer than most pants, but eventually they too wear out. That’s where the really great part comes in. For the cost of $7 to return-ship the frayed or torn pants, Keith gets a new pair of the same kind of work pants. This can be done over and over again! And it doesn’t have to be exactly the same pair of pants; we’ve discovered that you can get a different size or color if desired.

I’m in the process of returning a pair of Keith’s pants to Duluth today, and I’ve got to say, this is such a great system! It probably wouldn’t work so well for somebody who wasn’t so harsh on their clothing or who didn’t take the time to return the pants, but for us, this is a great deal. We have paid for two pairs of pants from them, and this will be the second or third time returning a pair in exchange for new ones. What a good investment!

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (3)  

driving an older vehicle

There are moments when I really detest our car.

Don’t get me wrong: I am thankful to have a reliable vehicle. At 203,000 miles, she is still running strong. We’ve been driving Dory for nearly seven years and still have had to do only routine maintenance and very few side repairs, such as replacing a cracked window and a broken ignition.

It’s just that she is so low to the ground, and the seats are so very uncomfortable, and it is so very awkward to get two small children in and out of their huge carseats in the backseat, and it is so annoying to have to cram groceries in every nook and cranny, and I wish I could take the stroller with us all the time instead of just on select trips. My bi-weekly grocery shopping trips to the city an hour away are becoming a thing of immense exhaustion and much inconvenient maneuvering. I’m tired of having no room in the car to change a diaper, I’m tired of taking everything out of the trunk to get the stroller in, and most of all I’m tired of those darned uncomfortable seats.

And I wish there was a windshield wiper on the rear window. And maybe dual climate control. And a CD player. And I wish that one of our rear seat belts wasn’t broken. And I wish there wasn’t that blind spot where the huge molding on the back window interferes with my line of sight.

This is really nothing new. I have been fighting discontentment with Dory for various reasons for a few months out of every year for oh, the last six years or so. Overall, she’s a great car. But the discontentment has been strong lately, so we have been analyzing the situation again and reminding ourselves why it is not yet time to get a different vehicle. Here is the reasoning:

  • We’re driving Dory less than 1000 miles per month right now. I see no reason that this car wouldn’t last easily until 225,000 miles, meaning she has at least a few good years left in her.
  • Most of my miles are highway miles, so if the average speed (between town driving and highway driving) is 50 mph, then I’m really only in the car for 20 hours per month.
  • If we were to get a newer car, we’d want to get one that was good quality and thus would last us another seven years or more. If car payments were $300 per month, and if we were only driving it 20 hours per month, that means that we would effectively be spending $15 per hour for the privilege of driving the new vehicle, or $20 per hour if you count gas.
  • As uncomfortable as Dory may be, the four of us can still fit in her and she still works for us. I look forward to the day when we get a higher vehicle with more room in it, but the ability to pay down other debts still seems more important than paying $20 per hour for the privilege of driving a newer car.

I think that for me, when it comes to things that are such strong wants that they are almost becoming needs (such as getting a newer vehicle), it is exceedingly helpful to analyze the cost ratio. Our car is not nickel-and-diming us; on the contrary, she is saving us car payments and is holding up tremendously well. The gas mileage is good, the air conditioning works, and the vehicle is acceptable in every other way. For now, it behooves us to continue driving Dory and continue putting more money toward our already-existing debts rather than taking on new ones.

And when the time comes to get a new vehicle, we will just be that much more grateful for it. Right?

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 12:15 am  Comments (3)  
Tags: ,

thoughts on groceries: buying in bulk

We are big fans of buying in bulk.

I lived half an hour from the nearest grocery store during my teenage years, and my parents bought nearly everything in bulk. We had two or three freezers full of meat, bread, and milk. The pantry was full of canned goods bought by the caseload during good sales. We even had a root cellar laden with six months’ or a year’s supplies of onions, potatoes, and carrots.

The benefits of having a lot of food on hand are far-reaching. Lots of ingredients means lots of supplies available for many types of meals. Having enough food to last a family for a month or two means that groceries take care of themselves if there is an unexpected shortage of time or money to buy more food. And perhaps most importantly, it means having the freedom to buy in bulk when the price is right.

Keith and I have used this same mentality in our years of marriage. In the college years, it meant something more akin to buying Mountain Dew and Shin Ramen in bulk. (Seriously!) Now that we live more than an hour from our grocery stores of choice, it means buying most of our nonperishables in bulk, and even some perishables as our family grows in size and in appetite. There are some extra considerations, though, and I’m going to delve into those a little bit here.

Costco is a fantastic source for cheap prices on many bulk items. Salsa, toilet paper, sundried tomatoes, hummus, onions, pesto, dried cranberries, frozen chicken, fruit leather, almonds, yeast, tomato sauce, dry noodles, spices, salmon patties, and plain yogurt are some of our favorite things to get from Costco. I think the savings in toilet paper alone probably makes our yearly membership worth the cost. The trick, though, is that not everything is cheaper at Costco. The salad mixes are a great deal, and so are a few other vegetables, but most of the fresh produce can be found elsewhere for a lot less. Lesson #1: Just because a store has a lot of cheap bulk items doesn’t mean that all of their bulk items are cheap.

Another consideration for us in our current living quarters is that we just don’t have that much space. This makes buying in bulk a lot more tricky. A two-month’s supply of feta cheese can fit easily in our freezer, but a three-month’s supply of chicken broth requires a bit more planning. We have to make sure that the amount we save on the items bought in bulk will make up for the fact that it will take up a large segment of our storage space. Otherwise, we would either end up with groceries spilling into our living space, or we would have to cut back on buying something else in bulk which would actually save us more money. Lesson #2: Don’t buy in bulk just to save a few cents, unless you have a lot of room for it.

A third consideration is whether having a certain item in bulk is a good idea. We can buy pesto in large containers, freeze it, and have it last a while because we only have pesto noodles once every other week or so. But what about something like ice cream? The last time I went to Costco (on a hot August day!), I very nearly bought a case full of delicious-looking chocolate-and-almond-coated ice cream bars. My rationale at the moment was that it would save us money on ice cream. But we usually only buy one quart of ice cream every few weeks. Had I brought home ice cream in bulk, we would have gone through it much more quickly, rather than reserving it for a special treat, thus costing us more. It is for this same reason that I don’t buy chocolate chips in bulk. I adore chocolate chips, and I will quickly eat through a ten-pound bag of them all by myself in one month. Tasty, but a big extra expense. And that’s not even to mention what it does to my waistline. Lesson #3: If buying an item in bulk causes you to consume it more quickly, it may not be worth buying in bulk.

There are exceptions to this, of course. When we buy broccoli or snap peas in bulk, we go through them more quickly than we would otherwise, because we want to eat them all before they go bad. This just means that we rotate these foods in and out of our diet. When we get sick of broccoli because we had to consume a bunch of it just before it went bad, then we don’t buy broccoli next time. I think it works out. The important thing with buying fresh stuff in bulk, though, is making sure we do consume it all before it goes bad; otherwise, it wasn’t worth the extra cost. Lesson #4: Don’t buy in bulk unless you will use all of the item before it is no longer useable.

I’ve mentioned Costco several times in this post, but only because it is our bulk store of choice. You can always buy in bulk at other stores when they have good sales. I tend to buy several pounds worth of items like tomatoes and avocados from Fred Meyer, because their daily low prices are lower than the daily low prices of Costco. Combining coupons with sales at Fred Meyer often results in much lower prices than I have found anywhere else. I have raised more than a few eyebrows by piling dozens of cartons of Pacific Foods soups in my cart when they are on sale, but the long-lasting value of great deals is well worth it. Lesson #5: When something you need is on sale, consider getting a lot more of it!

Some of our favorite things to buy in bulk are listed in this post, as well as some things which we purposefully choose not to buy in bulk. What about you? What are some of your favorite things to buy in bulk? What are some things which you have regretted buying in bulk?

Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm  Comments (2)  

thoughts on groceries: using coupons

I still haven’t totally worked out my opinion about using coupons at the grocery store, but I am greatly inclined to agree with Trent at The Simple Dollar: using coupons often ends up costing you more money. If you base your grocery shopping around your coupons, you end up buying name-brand stuff that you didn’t really want that’s not on sale just to get $1 off, when really you could have bought the generic brand, a brand on sale, or something healthier for the same price.

I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this, but thus far I have not been able to see a huge value in using a lot of grocery coupons. I followed one blog for about a year in which the author chronicled her weekly grocery shopping trips and how much she saved at the store. The reason I have not been inspired to follow suit is that the foods she ended up with were things like soda, chips, hot dogs, and lots of other stuff that really lacks in nutrition. She saves a ton of money every month, probably spending less than $50 total on groceries, and yet I can’t bring myself to feed my family that way. Like I’ve said before, we try to eat primarily organic foods, and our meals are usually based around fruits and vegetables. I find it more useful to buy cheap organic produce from Fred Meyer, cheap healthy chicken from Costco, cheap organic beef from independent farmers, and cheap organic grain foods (pasta, bread, rice) from Costco than to hunt down coupons for the less-healthy, higher-priced equivalents of these items at other stores.

That said, I do use coupons whenever they are applicable to me. Costco doesn’t accept manufacturer’s coupons, but they do have coupon books that come out every few months and I make it a point to use those. Parents magazine has coupons now and then for 20% off diaper orders on Amazon, so I am able to stack the subscribe-and-save with the 20% off to get Seventh Generation diapers for cheap. Fred Meyer often has in-store coupons as well as stackable brand coupons for things like organic cereals and pasta sauce, so I use those when available. Usually though, I just buy according to the sales, and I think that is working out pretty well for the kinds of foods we want to eat.

The one area in which I need to start seeking out printable online grocery coupons is dairy. I would really like to begin getting raw milk, but I have been meaning to do that for a while and for now we are still just buying expensive organic grocery store milk. I know there are $1 off coupons for that if only I could remember to find them. I get cheap healthy-ish yogurt and cheese from Costco, and pasture butter from Pilgrim’s or Azure Standard, but we haven’t been eating other dairy because I haven’t been able to find good prices for it yet. Maybe I should get going on that.

To differentiate grocery coupons from all other coupons, though, I should add that I absolutely love to use coupons in other areas. We use an Entertainment book or coupons whenever we go out. I have begun using Groupon – carefully, though, to make sure that I don’t buy something I wasn’t already planning to buy. I click on eBates before buying things at most online sites; so far that has given us $49.90 in cash back rewards. I click on His Place Church before buying on Amazon, as a small fraction of what I spend then goes back to the church.

But back to the subject. That’s where I am at with grocery coupons. What about you? Have you found that using grocery coupons has saved you money without compromising your nutrition?

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 11:37 am  Comments (4)  

spending spree

Lately we have been in a different kind of mode regarding money. There are a lot of factors here… finally having income again after a lean winter, Keith working 14 hours a day, having a new baby, moving to a new home… but it all adds up to spending more money than usual.

I’m balancing our checkbook just now and am working my way through more than the numbers. We don’t usually need to work at sticking to a budget; we keep a running tally of our monthly bills and living expenses, and they stay pretty much the same from month to month. Lately, though, there have been all kinds of new investments, and I’m going back to rethink them.

The biggest one was a new lawnmower. Keith spent several evenings searching Craigslist and local stores for the best price on a used one. He took a day to do errands in Coeur d’Alene, including checking out used lawnmowers, and at last settled on getting one from a local place in St. Maries. Totally out of our budget, yet buying one in town means that we can get it serviced here, and buying a new one means that there is a warranty and we can expect it to last a good while. It also means that Keith can spend his evenings with us rather than perusing the computer for a deal, and it means that we can actually enjoy our large lawn now… which was nearly a foot tall… without worrying that our children will get lost in it.

There are a lot of other little “worth it” expenses that just really add up. A ceramic handprint of our newborn son. A copy of his birth certificate. A trip to the chiropractor. A second SwaddleMe wrap so that I don’t have to hold the baby all night when his other wrap is dirty. (I am terrible at swaddling with blankets… he always escapes and cries.) Keith meeting friends for breakfast one morning. Me buying a new purse and diaper bag combo after being totally sick of my heavy-lead-content purse and picked-out-by-others diaper bags. Buying a couple of nice wooden lawn chairs for ourselves and the paint to paint them with after years of wishing for something we could sit on outside. A lovely new rocking chair that was Keith’s birthday gift to me.

The truth is that we could have done without all of these items. Yet I am glad for all the money that we have spent on them. Buying a copy of Abraham’s birth certificate now means that we don’t have to later. Getting a new purse is like getting a facelift… if I was into that kind of thing… because I used my old one for two years and am so excited to only cart around one medium-sized bag now. Meeting friends for breakfast is an investment in relationships… and yes, there are other ways to do that, but sometimes just eating out can be a nice change. It’s possible that we would have found cute lawn furniture eventually, but we’ve been looking for three summers, and buying the new (on sale) ones at the local hardware store means we can enjoy them now. I already had a rocking chair, but the cushions were worn out and it squeaked loudly enough to wake up the neighbors, according to Keith, so having a comfortable place to fall asleep in the middle of the night when I’m up with our little boy is WORTH IT.

Really, all of these things are worth it. But it is hard sometimes to let go and spend money on things that we could have lived without. Have you ever heard the logic that when you are in debt, everything costs more? The idea behind it is that every dollar you spend could have gone toward debt, and every item you buy ends up costing you more if you factor in the interest rate you’re being charged on the debt that you didn’t pay down. It all adds up to us feeling guilty any time we buy something that isn’t totally necessary. Yet I would rather enjoy our lives on the way to paying off our debt than be total sticklers for not buying anything unless absolutely necessary for another three or four years.

I am a firm believer that there is a time to spend and a time to save. Sometimes these times follow close on the heels of one another. I am thinking that it is time to tighten the reins a bit on our budget again, but that doesn’t mean that I regret the money already spent on these and other recent investments. It just means that we need to revisit frugality so that the next time something is so worth it, we will have the money to pay for it. For now, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the results of our recent spending spree, and seek wisdom for living in balance when it comes to spending.

Published in: on June 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm  Comments (1)  

money myths

Get Rich Slowly is one of my two favorite finance blogs. It has innovative ideas as well as a balanced perspective toward money, and I have found far more relevant tips here than elsewhere.

Every now and then, as you’ve probably noticed, I find a post that I like so much that I can’t help sharing it. Today, that includes this one:

I particularly appreciate the section on money myths. I think there are several included which are worthy of separate blog posts all of their own, but I doubt I’ll actually get to doing that, so let me just point out my favorites:

  • It’s not wrong to be rich.
  • The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
  • It’s important to budget on what you actually earn, not on what you hope to earn.
  • Just because you can’t take it with you when you die doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t save money responsibly while you’re alive.
  • A person’s standard of living is not based on how much they spend and consume.
  • Buying a home isn’t always better than renting one. (Especially if you are like us and move at least once a year. It simply wouldn’t be worth it at this point in our lives.)
  • Having to pay for something yourself doesn’t have to mean it’s worth more to you.

I think that each of these points are things that Keith and I have learned to some extent during our marriage. The last one is one that I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone else say before, but I have certainly seen the truth of it in at least one area of our life together: our car! We just hit 200,000 miles on the 1997 Camry that Keith’s parents gifted to him more than six years and 110,000 miles ago. The blessing of a continually reliable vehicle and not having to make car payments has been something for which we have truly been thankful.

I’ve just now begun to chew this over, but I think that when people have helped me financially – whether with college scholarships or with gas money – I have appreciated it and remembered it long after I have remembered the so-called satisfaction of earning my own way the rest of the time. I’m not suggesting that it would be a good idea to always receive without having to work for it, but I do disagree with the idea that helping someone will cause them not to appreciate it – whatever the “it” might be – as much. If done right, I think generous assistance can not only be a blessing that cultivates a heart of thankfulness, but also a catalyst for the one who has received to continue giving to others.

Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 3:55 pm  Comments (2)  

relearning the time vs. money thing

We moved three weeks ago, and getting the internet is something that we have decided to postpone for the time being. It would be both expensive and slow to have the internet at home, but we have also decided that we need a break from constant access to the world’s superhighway.

While it has been great for family time and has enabled me to get our house unpacked and ready for the baby (due in two weeks!), this lack of connectivity has also created a few glitches in the way that we normally do things. Not in relational connections; I don’t miss the random connections that I kept up with only by Facebook, and checking my email once a week or so at a wireless hot spot has not left me any more lacking for human contact than before. I can still read the blogs of closer friends in that once a week catch-up time and know as much about how they are doing as I did before. In fact, it’s really rather nice to begin learning again to call people if I want to know how they are doing right now, rather than just checking their Facebook status. Somebody we know and now live near had a baby last week, and instead of finding out about it instantly online, we were able to meet the newborn in person and learn her name as we met her. It was really quite refreshing.

There are some adjustments to be made. I’m quite the addict to being able to check our debt balances and update our total debt spreadsheet at least once a month, so it’s odd to be without that ability at my fingertips. Not being able to balance the checkbook every few days is also a new experience for me. I have learned, though, that there is such a thing as “pay by phone” and that it is possible to pay your bills with neither stamps nor internet. Such amazing technology, hmm?

We are also finding that we miss being able to watch TV shows. We don’t watch a lot, thus one of the reasons that we don’t have a TV, but there are a few that we keep up with. Being able to keep up with Lost, House, and 30 Rock might be enough to persuade us to get the internet were it not for the sad fact that our internet here would be too slow to stream TV shows. We may bite the bullet and begin shelling out $3 per Lost episode (downloaded from iTunes)… but maybe we can stick it out until the entire final season comes out on DVD. Just nobody tell me what is going on, please.

The real problem I am finding with not having the internet is in another area altogether. Shopping! I love online shopping. In fact, the void I am experiencing in not being able to do it leads me to realize that I was doing it more than I had realized I was doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy much online, but when I do decide to buy something, I spend a good deal of time finding the best product for the best price and of course using different discount codes and cash back sites to make sure I save as much as possible.

This became glaringly obvious to me yesterday when Keith gifted me with three hours alone on the internet. The alone time itself was marvelous, but it also felt great to do some things online that have needed to be done. One of the tasks on my prebirth checklist was to buy the remaining things needed for our little one. We were gifted with a second changing table, and I needed to find a changing pad and changing pad cover. No big thing, right? I had already seen changing pads in person at two stores and knew I could save $10 by getting one from Amazon. But then came the shopping experience that led to a bit of an epiphany for me. I had spent a full hour of my much-needed three-hour-alone-time looking at changing table covers on Amazon, analyzing the reviews, the colors, the fabrics, and the prices before it hit me. I had decided to buy one of the pricier changing pad covers ($4 more than a cheaper but lower-rated option) but was feeling exceedingly disappointed over not finding it for a cheaper price. Relaying this story to Keith later also helped me to confirm my sudden realization: Sometimes it is not necessary to analyze something so minutely.

It’s somewhat laughable, but I think this is actually an issue for me. I have become so fixated on getting the best possible price that I neglect to remember that it’s okay if I don’t always save the absolute most money that I possibly can, particularly when the monies in question break down to less than a few dollars difference on a one-time purchase. I have become so adept at bargain-hunting that if I buy a certificate for 70% off rather than 80% off, I feel disappointed. If I can combine a sale and coupon at Fred Meyer to pay $1.89 per box of cereal, and then realize a few days later that I could have gotten each box for $1.29, I am more than slightly disappointed; it’s actually hard to let it go.

The big appeal to me about online shopping has been that it saves time and money. For the large part, this is true. And now that I know how and where to find good deals online, I can do it quickly… in my one-hour-per-week-on-the-internet time. There is no need for me to spend two or three hours over a period of a week or two trying to find the cheapest possible price for the changing pad cover that I want. Instead I can just quickly check eBay and Amazon and make a decision and be happy with it. Sure, it may have been possible to find it for $1 less if I had kept bookmarking auctions on eBay or watching to see if Amazon’s option had a random price drop. But is it really worth it? No.

My enjoyment of doing things that are ridiculously meticulous needs to find another outlet… say, putting away all these cute little cloth diapers that will soon be used on our newborn child. I think being without internet is the perfect opportunity for me to have a break from the tempting intricacies of the online shopping world. Lately I have been learning to use Rilla’s naptimes – often used previously for catching up online – to instead take naps myself. It is utterly blissful, and I think our whole family would agree that for now, we are better off without the internet. The slight financial difference in not spending the time to find those absolute best bargains is more than recovered by having more time to do more at home.

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm  Comments (4)